All research has a cost, whether it is time in designing the project and writing the proposal or employing someone to collect data, paying for the consumables and the office space used and its associated costs or the funding of specialist equipment required to do the research project; the costs have to be ‘paid for’ by someone.


There are many sources of external funding, from small charitable organisations that fund perhaps one or two small research projects per year to the large charities like the MRC and the national disease charities i.e. cancer charities, British Heart Foundation and several others who fund many projects and allocate millions of pounds to clinical research. Pharmaceutical companies spend millions on research, usually funding the development of new products but sometimes supporting medical research, where the only benefit to them is the prestige of having supported an innovation. The NHS also allocates hundreds of millions of pounds per year to supporting research, not only in funding individual research projects but also funding the infrastructure required to undertake research within the NHS through the establishment of the NIHR (National Institute for Health Research). Most research funders have specific areas of interest including the NHS and the individual researcher applying must recognise the priorities and interests of the funder if they are to stand any chance in securing funding for their project.

UK government departments

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) commissions and funds a wide range of health, social care and public health research, translating discoveries into practical products, treatments, devices and procedures.  Funding is provided through a range of research programmes that are co-ordinated by the NIHR Central Commissioning Facility (CCF) and the NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre (NETSCC).  Training and career development awards, ranging from doctoral level through to opportunities for established investigators and research leaders, are co-ordinated through the NIHR Trainees Coordinating Centre (NIHR TCC).

More detailed information on the NIHR funding streams can be found at NIHR funding streams at a glance.

The NIHR also co-funds health research and research facilities with partners such as charities, industry, trust funds and public funding bodies in areas of strategic priority and where the scope of the partner’s research complements the NIHR funding streams.

The Department of Health spends about £30 million per annum through research budgets held by Departmental policy branches and through research undertaken by arm’s length bodies including Public Health England.

Research Councils

The primary role of Research Councils UK (RCUK) is to fund research. Each year a total of around £3 billion is invested in research conducted at UK universities, Research Council Institutes, and in securing access to international facilities for UK researchers.  A diverse range of funding opportunities are offered that cover the full spectrum of academic disciplines from medical and biological sciences to astronomy, physics, chemistry and engineering, social sciences, economics, environmental sciences and the arts and humanities.  Each of the Research Councils funds research within a broad set of subject disciplines, and in collaboration with other Councils and partners. Detailed information about the areas of research each Council supports can be found on their individual websites.

Alongside the NIHR, the Medical Research Council (MRC) is the second main route through which the Government funds health-related research in the UK.  The MRC focuses on fundamental research that makes a difference to human health, including broad initiatives such as speeding up the development of basic discoveries into new drugs and treatments.  A range of grants, calls, highlight notices, studentships and fellowships are available.

Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC)
Medical Research Council (MRC)
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

Grant-making trusts and foundations

There are about 8,800 grant-making trusts and foundations in the UK, providing around £2.1 billion in grants to charities each year.  The Association of Medical Research Charities directory contains leading medical and health research charities in the UK and a useful resource for finding a suitable charity funding.

The Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and the British Heart Foundation (BHF) all host a range of funding schemes supporting individuals, teams, resources, seed ideas, places and major initiatives.

Find further funding opportunities, including a wider range of charities through ResearchProfessional.

The NIHR funding opportunities booklet provides information about their research funding and career development opportunities available for researchers based in the NHS, universities, industry and other organisations concerned with health, public health and social care.


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